The Profound Impact of The Cycle of Life in "Indian Camp"

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Words: 1256 |

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7 min read

Published: Jan 31, 2024

Words: 1256|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Jan 31, 2024

What is a cycle of life and why do people fear death? Often with each trial that an individual faces in life, they ​​tend to grow and become wiser. People learn to act and think differently based on whether their experiences are good or bad. They generate beliefs through life experience and they see the world from a different point of view. The knowledge that each person gains is important on how they can reflect for the rest of their lives. The author, Ernest Hemingway successfully used the ordeal phase of the hero’s journey from the short story “Indian Camp” by showing his audience that witnessing the cycle of life from giving birth to death is an extraordinary event that can change an innocent child's perception of the world and can make him more mature.

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This short story compares birth and death by illustrating that they are both as painful, bloody, and brutal. The woman’s birth is complicated because babies are supposed to be born head first. While her screams are extreme, Nick’s father said. “But her screams are not important. I don’t hear them because they are not important.” (68). “Listen to me. What she is going through is called being in labor. All her muscles are trying to get the baby born. That is what is happening when she screams.” he tells Nick (68). In addition, Nick’s father had to perform a caesarean operation since she can’t deliver the baby naturally. Nick’s father operates on her with his jackknife and sewing it up with gut leaders without anesthetic. This leaves her in so much pain, by the time the woman is stitched up, she is “pale” and “quiet” (69). “She didn’t even know what had become of the baby or anything” (69). Similarly, when the birth is over and they come to realized that the woman’s husband had committed suicide. “His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk.”(69). Although the reasons for the man’s suicide is unknown, that the pain he felt watching his wife give birth overwhelmed him and led him to suicide, mistakenly linking the violence and pain of birth to the violence and pain of death.

While Hemingway suggests that birth and death have similar experiences, Nick and his father react to them differently. Nick’s father treats the birth with composure and he encourages Nick to watch each step and he dismisses the woman’s screams as “not important.” (68). However, the woman’s painful birth traumatized Nick. He asks his father to “give her something” (68) to stop her screaming, and even as he helps his father prepare for surgery, he can barely look at what he’s doing. Of the actual surgery, Hemingway writes, “Nick did not watch. His curiosity had been gone for a long time.” (69) While Nick’s father clearly thinks it’s appropriate for Nick to watch this difficult birth, he tells Uncle George to take Nick outside when they find the dead man in the top bunk. However, it was too late because “Nick, standing in the door of the kitchen, had a good view of the upper bunk when his father, the lamp in one hand, tipped the Indian’s head back” (69). These details suggest that Nick looked steady at death, while he looked away from watching birth.

Cycle of life is a series that any living thing goes through from the beginning of life until the end of life which is death. Hemingway did an excellent job giving the ordeal to the protagonist young Nick because it shows that children will have a different reaction from a traumatic experience. At the end, it clearly shows that Nick has matured by having more knowledge from his experience. Not everyone is given an opportunity to witness life and death at the same time. In addition, Nick obviously matured by the end of the story for being more curious about life and death. He asked his father a series of questions such as “Do ladies always have such a hard time having babies?” “Do many men kill themselves, Daddy?” “Is dying hard, Daddy?” (69). At the very end of the sentence, Nick felt quite sure that he would never diet. This shows that Nick learned that suicide is a sign of weakness and that he will never do such a thing. Life and death experiences are both not easily understood. To Hemingway, it seems, the appropriate response to such painful and horrifying situations is to look away. 

n 'Indian Camp,' Ernest Hemingway masterfully explores the cycle of life, emphasizing the profound impact it has on an individual's perception of the world and their personal growth. This short story juxtaposes birth and death, highlighting their shared characteristics of pain, bloodiness, and brutality. Through Nick's perspective and his father's responses, Hemingway delves into the different ways people react to these experiences.

The story begins with the painful and complicated childbirth of an Indian woman. Her screams are agonizing, but Nick's father, a doctor, dismisses them as unimportant, focusing on explaining the process to Nick. The doctor's composure during the childbirth stands in stark contrast to Nick's emotional turmoil. Nick, still an innocent child, is traumatized by witnessing the pain and suffering of the woman. He pleads with his father to provide relief, showing his sensitivity and empathy towards others in pain.

The caesarean operation that Nick's father performs without anesthesia amplifies the brutality of birth, leaving the woman pale and quiet. Hemingway underscores the traumatic nature of childbirth by depicting the woman's disorientation and confusion after the operation. This portrayal not only emphasizes the physical pain but also the emotional toll it takes on the woman.

In a surprising turn of events, it is revealed that the woman's husband has committed suicide, cutting his throat from ear to ear. While the reasons for his suicide remain unknown, the juxtaposition of his death with the traumatic childbirth suggests a connection. It seems the man could not bear to witness the excruciating pain his wife endured during childbirth, mistakenly associating it with the violence and agony of death.

Hemingway skillfully portrays the differing reactions of Nick and his father to these intense experiences. While Nick's father maintains composure and encourages Nick to observe the childbirth, Nick is deeply affected by it. His curiosity wanes, and he becomes unable to watch the surgery. This contrast highlights the gap in understanding between an adult's perspective and that of a child when confronted with the cycle of life and death.

As the story progresses, it becomes evident that Nick has matured through this ordeal. His curiosity about life and death is awakened, and he bombards his father with questions about the difficulties of childbirth and the nature of dying. Nick's final assertion that he will never die suggests a newfound resilience and a rejection of suicide as a response to life's challenges. Through this transformation, Hemingway emphasizes the profound impact that witnessing the cycle of life and death can have on a young, impressionable mind.

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In conclusion, 'Indian Camp' serves as a powerful exploration of the cycle of life and its effects on human understanding and maturity. Hemingway skillfully portrays the similarities between the brutality of birth and death while highlighting the contrasting reactions of Nick and his father. Through Nick's transformation, the story underscores the significance of life experiences in shaping one's perspective on the world. Hemingway suggests that, although these experiences may be painful and horrifying, they ultimately contribute to personal growth and a deeper understanding of life and death.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Profound Impact of the Cycle of Life in “Indian Camp”. (2024, January 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from
“The Profound Impact of the Cycle of Life in “Indian Camp”.” GradesFixer, 31 Jan. 2024,
The Profound Impact of the Cycle of Life in “Indian Camp”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 Jun. 2024].
The Profound Impact of the Cycle of Life in “Indian Camp” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jan 31 [cited 2024 Jun 17]. Available from:
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